Harvard Law School Professor Cass R. Sunstein ’75 ranked seventh in Foreign Policy magazine’s first annual “Top 100 Global Thinkers” list published yesterday for his work on libertarian paternalism and his influence in the Obama administration, the magazine’s editors said.
Sunstein, who is on leave to head the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, shared the ranking with economist Richard H. Thaler of the University of Chicago’s business school. The two co-authored “Nudge,” a book arguing how public and private organizations can help people make better choices in their daily lives in 2008. Sunstein served as an assistant professor and full professor at the University of Chicago before coming to the Harvard Law School last fall.
Foreign Policy’s managing editor Blake Hounshell cited Sunstein’s influence on Obama’s thinking as a major reason for his selection as one of the top global thinkers.
“We were looking for people who had a real impact in 2009,” Hounshell said. “Cass Sunstein is a really intriguing, behind-the-scenes guy who comes up all the time.”
Hounshell added that the magazine’s editors were particularly impressed with Sunstein’s work on libertarian paternalism, a theory that examines how the government can encourage people to make the decision they would take if they were better informed.
“It really seems to fit the moment—it’s neither left nor right,” Hounshell said.
News of Sunstein’s ranking did not surprise his colleagues at Harvard Law School.
“Of the legal thinkers of his generation, Cass has outstripped everyone else,” Law School professor Richard H. Fallon said. “He’s an incredibly far-reaching and creative thinker who’s now in a position to put some of his ideas into practice.”
Fallon also stressed the range of Sunstein’s work, which he said spans political philosophy, cognition, economics, and traditional history analysis.
Sunstein declined to comment for this article.
Other Harvard affiliates topped Foreign Policy’s list. Chairman of the Federal Reserve Benjamin S. Bernanke ’75 led off the list, followed by HLS graduate President Barack Obama at number two.
Samantha Power, Sunstein’s wife and another Harvard professor on leave in Washington, also made the list at number 80.